Let’s stop saying ‘breakthrough cases’ – it isn’t helping

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland


Throughout the pandemic, public health experts have communicated critical COVID-19 guidance to the American people in ways that are confounding — and sometimes contradictory. Examples of mixed messages by public health officials since the start of the pandemic are plentiful. From mask practices to back-to-school recommendations to booster shots, confusion and ambiguity have circulated, creating uncertainty at times as to what people can do to stay safe. …

By trumpeting the term “breakthrough cases,” public health authorities are spreading the impression that these infections are novel, unique and unanticipated by the scientific community. In fact, the vaccine was designed precisely with this likelihood in mind, and it is working exactly as intended. …

For leaders to lead, they need people to trust them. To build trust in the vaccine, public health officials need to be clear in how it works. They need to state that though infections can still occur, even after receiving boosters, symptoms will be mild for most Americans — and that such infections are part of the calculus in getting the vaccine, not a reason to question its efficacy. They must avoid and openly challenge terms that reaffirm preconceived beliefs, not perpetuate them in the public discourse.